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Domino refinery building to reopen this week after decades of dormancy

September 27, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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After more than 10 years of planning, rezoning, painstaking demolition, and craftsman level construction, Two Trees Management Company will unveil the Refinery at Domino to the public at 300 Kent Ave. in Williamsburg on Wednesday. The opening event will also serve as a calling card for companies looking to locate in Brooklyn to come stake their claim in what is fast becoming a marquee commercial address in the borough.

Billed as an “architectural masterpiece,” with a “triple-height atrium lobby, exceptional amenities,” and “acclaimed ground-floor retailers” (as yet-to-be-announced), the one-of-a-kind landmark building recently landed an official New York Fashion Week show and after party hosted by Hermès. The event featured a “who’s who” of New York City icons, dubbed “Walking On Air” in an homage to the incomparable view of the Manhattan skyline that the Refinery building boasts.

This type of top-tier attention is undoubtedly key to Two Trees’ strategy to attract tenants to the Refinery, as commercial office leasing has struggled across Brooklyn, and the rest of the country, since the pandemic. Time will tell whether the larger than typical footprint offered by the Refinery – it has nearly 460,000 square feet of office space to fill – will help attract a different set of potential tenants who might have otherwise overlooked the borough.

The interior of the Refinery at Domino. Rendering courtesy of Two Trees Management

“Usually tenants seeking quality office space of a few hundred thousand square feet or more are almost by necessity drawn to Manhattan,” said Tucker Reed, Principal of the development firm Totem, and former President of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “Other than pockets of Downtown Brooklyn like MetroTech, or down in Sunset Park at Industry City or the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Brooklyn does not have many large footprints to offer large scale commercial tenants.”

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Those commercial destinations are either rehabs of former industrial buildings, in the case of Industry City, or ground up commercial construction of a generation ago, like MetroTech which was built in the 1980s. The Refinery sits somewhere in between, as Two Trees has literally placed a new building inside the historic shell of an older one. In the era of a “flight to quality,” where employers are looking for highly amenitized, new construction buildings to attract their employees back to the office, the Refinery may offer a rare opportunity to blend new office product, with the historic character that draws people to the Brooklyn waterfront.

Two Trees is coming off surprisingly strong leasing activity at nearby Ten Grand Street, filling approximately 150,000 square feet of office space, no doubt in part due to the building’s incomparable views of the East River and access to Domino Park and local retailers. The company also has a long track record of catering to creative class companies in DUMBO with flexible lease terms and cultivating an entrepreneurial culture in their buildings.

“If anyone can lease up the Refinery, it’s Jed Walentas and the team at Two Trees,” added Reed. “Who else would have the vision to reimagine Domino the way they have, and then have the wherewithal to realize it? I would not bet against them.”

Two Trees purchased the 11-acre Domino site in 2012 from Community Preservation Corporation (CPC), a non-profit housing developer that overextended itself and teetered on the brink of collapse after taking on the massive site from the Domino Sugar Corporation in 2004. Two Trees then made the unorthodox decision to take the site through another rezoning even though CPC had secured a plan to unlock significant housing on the site only a few years before the sale. The Two Trees plan scrapped CPC’s blueprint entirely and started from scratch, landing on an approach that focused on adaptive reuse and open space including a large public park (which opened in 2018) and a nearly one third increase in amount of affordable housing proposed on the site in the old CPC plan. Today the Refinery is surrounded by more than 850 apartments that have been built to-date, with the next phase of the Domino Campus plan estimated to come online next year.

The roof at the Refinery at Domino. Rendering courtesy of Two Trees Management.

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